How to Travel From Lima to Tarapoto by Bus, Plane, or Car

Young boy is crossing an clear river in the tropical rain forest near Tarapoto/ San Martin/ north peru/ South America
Joerg Steber / Getty Images

Separated by 603 miles (971 kilometers) and the Andes Mountain Range, Peru's capital city of Lima and the jungle-embedded city of Tarapoto are quite far away from one another. While flying is obviously the quickest and easiest way to get from the coastal capital to Tarapoto, adventurous travelers might want to try one of the two overland routes by bus or a self-guided road trip.

  Time Cost Best For
Bus 28 hours from $15 Extreme budget travel
Flight 1 hour, 30 minutes from $22 Fastest route
Car 20 hours 603 miles (971 kilometers) A scenic road trip

What Is the Cheapest Way to Get From Lima to Tarapoto?

When fares drop as low as $15, the bus is the cheapest option, but airfare to Tarapoto can be almost as affordable. Since flights can frequently be found for as low as $22, it's often worth it to spend a little extra and spare yourself the long trip.

Most buses travel to Tarapoto from Lima via the standard and scenic route. The bus trip between Lima and Tarapoto via Trujillo takes a whopping 28 hours on average, without stopping, but you should add on a couple of hours for factors such as weather and road conditions. Three of Peru’s larger bus companies offer a direct service along the route: TEPSA, Civa, and Movil Tours. A handful of smaller bus companies also run along the route, but it’s worth paying a little extra for one of the more established operators.

If you want to take the mountain route, you’ll probably have to change vehicles at least twice (and maybe four times), and while the total road time is about 22 to 24 hours, this does not include the time you'll spend waiting to transfer to the next bus. Smaller regional bus companies operating between Lima and Huánuco include redBus and Transmar.

What Is the Fastest Way to Get From Lima to Tarapoto?

One-way flights between Lima and Tarapoto take about one hour, 30 minutes and are offered throughout the day by multiple airlines, including Viva Air, Sky Airlines, Star Peru, and LATAM. Although full-service airlines like LATAM compete with prices of competitors, their low fares do not always include checked baggage and they may charge you an extra fee.

How Long Does It Take to Drive Lima to Tarapoto?

The fastest way to drive from Lima to Tarapoto avoids the more common coastal route, but still takes at least 20 hours. This route heads directly inland in a northeastern direction from Lima to Cerro de Pasco and then Huánuco and Tingo Maria via Route 3N. From Tingo Maria, you'll head north along the scenic Tingo Maria to Tarapoto Road, or Route 5N, winding your way through the high jungle and through towns such as Tocache and Juanjui before arriving in Tarapoto.

You also have to be aware of potential problems along the Tingo Maria to Tarapoto Road. This road is improving each year, as more sections are being paved. Unfortunately, old-school banditry does still occur along this route, mainly during the night. Daytime travel is fairly secure, however, especially if you go with a car service.

What's the Most Scenic Route to Tarapoto?

Even though it is technically possible to drive through the mountains via Route 5N to save time, the safer and more scenic bus route from Lima to Tarapoto heads along the north coast of Peru, passing through Trujillo and then onto Chiclayo along Route 1N.

From Chiclayo, the route cuts inland in a northeastern direction and Route 1N turns into Route 4B until you reach Route 3N. You'll then take 3N east passing through the small towns of Bagua Grande and Pedro Ruiz before reaching Moyobamba and then Tarapoto.

If you’re traveling slowly and want to break up the trip along this route, you’ll find some interesting places to stop for a day or two. On the north coast, you can stop in Chiclayo, with its archaeological sites and excellent museums, or Trujillo, which also has archaeological sites, an impressive colonial city center, and great food. Further inland, you can take a short detour to Chachapoyas to see Kuelap Fortress and the Gocta Waterfall, or stop in Moyobamba for a dip in the hot springs.

When Is the Best Time to Travel to Tarapoto?

Most people passing through Tarapoto intend to take a cruise on the Amazon River and the best time to do so is between November and May. This time of year is considered the high-water season, so many parts of the river are flooded and that means you can explore further out into parts of the rainforest that would be inaccessible at other times of year. Being in the rainforest, Tarapoto has temperatures and humidity levels that are consistently high year-round, so there's really not any particular month in which you could avoid the worst of the hot and sticky weather.

Can I Use Public Transportation to Travel From the Airport?

Located a little over 2 miles (4 kilometers) from the city center, the Tarapoto Airport is a 10-minute mototaxi ride away. Because the airport is extremely small and there is no public transportation option, this is the most common way for tourists to travel from the airport.

What Is There to Do in Tarapoto?

Tarapoto is a gateway city and most people who travel here do so with the intention of then heading to Iquitos, a starting point for many Amazon River cruises. This is done through the port in Yurimaguas, located about 44 miles (71 kilometers) northeast of Tarapoto. Minibuses and shared taxis leave regularly from Tarapoto to Yurimaguas, where you can then organize your boat trip from Yurimaguas to Iquitos, which will take about three days.

There isn't much to see in Tarapoto, but those with time to spare may be interested in exploring the local cuisine. Restaurants in Tarapoto specialize in pork dishes like cecina and chorizo, which are usually served with roasted plantain balls.

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